Friday, May 6, 2011

The Helpless

I've been talking with Jamie this morning, and he seems to be doing fairly well for a man who just lost a leg. He's not on quite so many painkillers, but his mood hasn't shifted dramatically downward. He isn't terribly happy, of course, but he's happy to be alive.

We had a good long conversation about what will be next for him. Scouting is probably going to be impossible for him at this point, which brought up a topic most of us have strayed away from: what to do with people who can't contribute.

Let me insert here that Jamie certainly can contribute. The value of a person doesn't lie in the strength of their arm or the speed they can run at. Jamie is clever and thinks around corners. He has both of his hands, so there is plenty for him to do outside of scouting.

But the larger discussion was a disturbing one. The Fall was hard on the human species in many ways. One of the darker parts of the rising of the zombie plague is that the most helpless were the easiest prey early on. The mentally disabled, the sick, the elderly....all of those groups were hit worse than any other. As awful as it is to say so, that was almost a blessing for the rest of us.

Damn, this is why it's so hard to talk about it. I'm a practical person, but I'm not heartless. I've taken care of all those groups. At the nursing home, I had all three at once. I loved those people, loved making them smile and letting them know that there was someone who cared for them. I'll just say it, then, because pussyfooting around only makes it worse.

When The Fall hit, those in most need of protection died first and quickest. This probably allowed some healthier and stronger people to survive, though given the scale of the outbreak I don't see it as a major factor for most survivors. The thing about the deaths of so many of those who needed total care that was beneficial for those of us who survived was that we were spared the choice of whether or not to take them in. To care for them.

If we had asked ourselves before The Fall about this situation as a hypothetical, the majority answer would have been: Yes, of course we would take in the sick, elderly, and the mentally challenged. A society that refuses to protect those with the greatest need for it isn't a society we want to live in. I mean, what kind of person would turn away those in such desperate need?

For the most part, we didn't need to think about it. Sure, we talked about how much useful knowledge and wisdom was lost with the older people, but it didn't go much beyond that.

Talking with Jamie has made me think about the larger, long-term problem. We're a community that prides itself on our fierce dedication to one another. We've killed when we needed to, even preemptively at times. There's a world of difference between killing a person who might kill you and rape your wife and turning away someone who through no fault of their own can't be a productive member of society.

In the world that was, a person who needed total care or constant supervision had options. They could live in a facility that provided those things. That was due to the abundance of wealth and resources once available. In the here and now, with food becoming such a concern for us, we might be faced with the choice of feeding a mentally retarded person who can never plant a crop or make items of use, and feeding a child. It's something we don't talk about. We don't think about it, either.

Why am I doing so now? I suppose because Jamie is already chomping at the bit to do something useful, as if recovering from having a limb amputated makes him lazy. I know it's because he wants to feel like he's doing his share. He told me that he feels bad to even be eating right now, because he knows it will be a while before he can do anything to have earned it.

Is that what we've become? Are we just a system of weights and numbers, or are we human beings? Can we be both? I doubt we could turn away a person in need. We could absorb the cost of a few meals a day for someone who can't provide for themselves. But could we do it for a dozen? Fifty?

Thinking about it makes me feel like shit. The worst part of it is that it probably won't be an issue for a long time. That doesn't make it any less of a worry for me. When a man injured in the line of duty feels bad about having survived the circumstances that gave him the injury, I have to start questioning how we look at survival.

I'm not just positing questions, either. In such a circumstance, having to choose between providing for a healthy person or one who couldn't care for themselves, I know what I'd choose. I'd choose the healthy person. I'd feel despair at the need for it, and probably hate myself.

You can hate yourself for doing the right thing. It's one of the many unique characteristics of being human.

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